British Columbia·Photos

Thousands gather to celebrate Indigenous culture at Squamish Nation Youth Powwow

The three-day event featured food, vendors, dance, and the crowning of this year's powwow princesses. 

New royalty crowned, dance champions celebrated, lost relatives honoured at 32nd annual event

Thousands visited the Squamish Nation's Elders Centre in West Vancouver this past weekend for the nation's 32nd annual Youth Powwow.

The three-day event featured food, vendors, dance, and the crowning of this year's powwow princesses. 

Six-year-old Terrena Charlie and nine-year-old Tal-leya Baker Lewis were chosen to represent their nation until next year's event.

Appointing young royalty for the year is an important part of Squamish Nation tradition.

Tal-leya Baker Lewis, left, and Terrena Charlie are the new Squamish Nation princesses. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Francis James, the event's MC, explains that royalty is earned by young people who demonstrate an eagerness to be involved in their culture and tradition.

Terrena and Tal-leya represent the beginning of the journey for a young Squamish person, a journey that most of their family members went through when they were younger as well. 

Jessica Baker, whose family started the Squamish Nation Youth Powwow, has been involved since she was seven years old.

Jessica Baker is an advocate for the positive influence powwows have on youth. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

She believes that the powwow is a crucial resource for First Nations youth because it encourages them to be engaged in their culture and, in doing so, away from drugs and alcohol. 

Wilfred Baker is in charge of cooking the salmon for the event. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

One of the main pillars of culture is food — and thanks to Baker's father, the powwow is well catered.

Wilfred Baker is in charge of cooking the salmon for the entire three-day event, helping to feed the thousands of visitors. 

Wilfred (right) and his son Wilfred, Jr. cook more than 200 salmon over the entire weekend. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

But the biggest draw for most people who attend the powwow is the dance competition. 

There are several different kinds of First Nations dance including Traditional, Fancy, and Jingle. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Mikayla Seto, a 22-year-old from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, has been dancing almost her whole life. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

This year, Mikayla Seto won second place in the women's jingle competition. 

She and her friends explained the importance of the beautiful dance regalia. 

"The regalia is sacred … when you take care of your outfit, your outfit will take care of you," Seto said. 

Depending on the detail of the design, it can take years to complete a single piece of regalia. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
 
Mikayla Seto and her mother spent a full year on the bead work for her regalia. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Rebecca Sangwais, a 28-year-old from the Ochapowace First Nation in Saskatchewan, wears her regalia with pride. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Another dancer, Rebecca Sangwais, learned to do beading for moccasins at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina, where she developed a skill for creating her own regalia.

Even so, it took two years to make the pieces she wears to dance. 

The front and back plates were commissioned because they required a unique beading skill, Sangwais said. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Although there are prizes involved in the powwow, Sangwais explains that dancers are not taught to be competitive against each other.

"You're dancing for yourself … it's the dancer versus the drum, not against another dancer," she said.

Dancers must keep on beat. If the song ends abruptly and they take another step then they will likely not have a chance at winning that competition. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
These drummers call themselves Star Child. One of the drummers, Ian Bee of the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation, says they also work to raise awareness about Indigenous people living with autism, and offer emotional support for residential school survivors. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Carl Potter is a Star Child drummer and uncle of Joshua Potter. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Carl Potter, who has danced and drummed his whole life, describes dancing as "a way of life."

This year's powwow was especially significant for Potter because of a memorial that took place for his nephew Joshua Potter, who died four years ago aged 28.

On Sunday, Potter and his family spoke about their lost loved one to the crowd, who, in turn, lined up to shake the family's hands and offer their condolences.

Carl Potter speaking about the loss of his nephew, Joshua Potter. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Potter wasn't competing on the weekend, but he wore regalia to honour his nephew, who helped him make some of the items. 

Potter says he put together this bustle with Joshua when his nephew was 11 years old. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The powwow offers a healing environment, a place where people can come together to express their grief as well as their joy. 

One of the many joyful events — and the last dance at the powwow — was the Potato Dance.

The dance involves putting a potato between two peoples heads and then performing whatever movement the MC calls out — without letting the potato drop. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Two men focus hard to keep the potato in place. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
The Potato Dance is more difficult than it seems. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The event concluded with the announcement of the winners from each dance category.

The new princesses shake hands with each winner — their first royal duty of the year.

The new powwow royalty, Terrena Charlie (left), and Tal-leya Baker Lewis, will now tour the 'Powwow Trail,' representing the Squamish Nation. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)